Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Four Charlie Brown Movies
The first of the four full-length animated feature films based on the "Peanuts" comic strip was A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969). This thing was more padded than a 7th-grader's bra. Its paper-thin story concerns Charlie Brown's unlikely quest to win the national spelling bee, but the plot takes a bunch of detours with psychedelic musical tangents, sequences lifted verbatim from the comic strip, and an overlong episode where Linus and Snoopy go searching New York City for Linus's missing blanket (while a psychotic minor-key variation of "Linus And Lucy" plays on the soundtrack). The movie is probably the purest "Peanuts" adaptation of the four films, balancing humor and melancholy in its best moments just as effectively as the strip. However, it suffers from a lack of storytelling coherency and the songs (written by Rod McKuen) only serve to slow the pace down even more. Snoopy Come Home (1972) is the most depressing of the four. All you need to know about it is in the title (which, incidentally, is the only title for a Peanuts animated feature not to include Charlie Brown's name). This time the songs were written by Richard and Robert (recently deceased) Sherman of "Mary Poppins" fame, and the best-known number is probably "NO DOGS ALOWWWWWWWWWED." The main knock against this movie is that it's too maudlin. If it were anybody but Schulz, I'd be inclined to agree. The theme of the movie is coming to terms with losing a friend, and at times it reaches to make things more emotional than a children's cartoon has any right to be. Growing up, my favorite Peanuts cartoon was 1977's Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. This is the one where they go to summer camp and compete in a river-rafting race. The script is riddled with plot holes and the cast is a bit overstuffed this time around (as it's the first movie to feature Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie). And there's almost no emotional resonance to the whole thing. But it's got that old "Peanuts" charm to it just the same. There's a funny recurring bit about the girl characters constantly having to vote on everything that could be read as a critique of democracy. The best gag is the part where Snoopy gets stuck on Peppermint Patty's waterbed (still funny as an adult): The Peanuts gang goes international in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!) (1980). The plot concerns C.B., Linus, P.P. and Marcie traveling to France to live as foreign exchange students. It's pretty much the weirdest one, and that's saying something. There's a sequence where they're all trapped in a burning building, a scene of Snoopy playing tennis at Wimbledon, and a really funny gag were Charlie Brown keeps failing at buying a loaf of bread. It has its flaws (Lucy is barely in it), but like all the previous "Peanuts" movies it's warm, subtle, imaginative, strange, and hilarious. There have not been any "Peanuts" movies since 1980, which was 32 years ago. The latter two of these movies have never received an official DVD release, which is a travesty and a tragedy. Seek them out if you can. They are all worth your time.